Generally speaking, the weekend outlook for local anglers of all stripes appears to be good in spite of renewed rains in some areas. Much of the precipitation has been strongly localized. For example, a cloudburst in parts of Frederick County on Tuesday muddied a Potomac feeder. But the Monocacy, the waters above the rain-soaked area, was in good enough shape for smallmouth bass fishermen. In fact, the Washington County portions have given up good numbers of bass, even a few heavy walleyes.
On the subject of recent oversupply of rain, the upper tidal Potomac River between Prince George's County's Piscataway Creek and western Charles County's Wade's Bay is fishable, and if the main stem of the river doesn't show suitable numbers of largemouth bass, the tributary creeks on the Virginia and Maryland sides of the river deliver the goods. Use Chatterbaits, spinnerbaits, medium and shallow diving crankbaits and, of course, plastic worms and crawfish claws, such as the Rage Tail and others.
If you are a fan of Virginia's Rappahannock River, state biologist John Odenkirk said the most recent electro-shocking tests of the tidal river's bass population showed some of the heaviest concentrations of largemouths upstream of the town of Port Royal. The area including Port Royal, Hicks Landing and Fredericksburg had fine numbers of bass, Odenkirk said, but the numbers decline as you head downriver.
Odenkirk said it's mostly a matter of suitable bass habitat. The upper tidal portions simply provide better hiding places. In addition, whenever a tournament is held, the fish usually are turned loose at Hicks Landing and they appear to stay in that region after their release. By the way, expect murky water below Fredericksburg but fishable conditions for smallmouth bass upstream of town.
In the Chesapeake, the fall fishing for rockfish - most of them in the 18- to 20-inch size - has been outstanding over broad areas of the Bay. Stripers are caught along with good numbers of bluefish and occasional hookups of spotted sea trout. Even though some bottom fishermen still connect on croakers, don't plan on them to hang around much longer. In some areas of the Bay, they've already started heading south. The same goes for Norfolk spot, and the Spanish mackerel.
On the oceanfronts between Maryland and Virginia, the wind has a lot to do with boats being able to head out. But whenever they do, the anglers find marlin and some tunas in the distant offshore waters. Inshore catches include bluefish, sea bass and undersized flounder. The surf fishing has turned serious now that well-fed channel bass (aka redfish, or red drum) have been hooked from the sands of Assateague Island.
Finally, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources wants the public's opinion regarding proposed commercial striped bass regulatory and administrative changes. The proposed changes come on the heels of the state's Natural Resources police seizing more than 26,000 pounds of striped bass from illegally set gill nets in February 2011. Public comments may be submitted via fax at 410-260-8310 or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. The public comment period runs through October 24. Final administrative and regulatory changes are scheduled to go into effect Nov 28. The proposed rockfish law changes can be seen at dnr.maryland.gov/fisheries/regulations/proposedregulations.asp.
I have an idea. Why not provide gamefish status for the striped bass and then we won't have to worry about them ever being netted. Other states have done it. Why not Maryland and Virginia? The stripers can be raised in fish farms for the market. We can't continue to depend on wild fish stocks to feed striped bass-hungry customers in restaurants and fish markets.
D.C. AND VICINITY
POTOMAC RIVER: 0-35 miles – In the District around Fletcher's Cove (202-244-0461), Ray Fletcher said, "We received a few sprinkles, but so far the river is in good shape. Catfish are biting and you'll begin to see more bass here. Every fall, the bass seem to show up in increased numbers." As you head downriver, a lot of bass anglers are beginning to watch the weed beds in the main stem and the creeks. Currently, everything is okay, but when a real cold snap -- especially a hard frost -- arrives, the weeds will begin to die off and float away. The bass will start heading to underwater wood and stone cover where we find them showing an interest in soft plastics, but also medium- and long-lipped crankbaits. Meanwhile, the weekend boaters will encounter quite a bit of floating debris, yet bass will be hooked on topwater lures, as well as crawfish fakes, such as the Baby Rage Tail, and Chatterbaits, along the marsh edges of feeder creeks and around main-stem weed carpets. In the saltier portions of the river, from the Route 301 bridge south, some trollers have scored on stripers of up to 26 inches. White perch are found all along structured shorelines, which means dock pilngs, piers, rip-rap, duck blinds and so on. A slowly retrieved, small inline spinner or Beetlespin lure will find and hook them.
WICOMICO RIVER: 55 miles – Don't overlook the fine white perch fishing that can be had along weedy shorelines. A simple 1/8-ounce white spinnerbait, or an inline Roostertail spinner is all you need. Bait is not necessary. If there are any croakers or spot around, tell some of the boaters near Bushwood who seem to find mostly catfish, not hardheads or spot.
MATTAWOMAN CREEK: 40 miles – This creek never ceases to amaze me. Our last outing delivered a number of bass that fell for wacky-rigged fat worms and craw baits in the slow section above and below the Mattingly Road launch ramps. If you catch a falling tide, you'll find willing bass, but the first several hours of incoming water also deliver the goods.
SO. MARYLAND LAKES: 40-50 miles – Gilbert Run Lake (Route 6, east of La Plata) has plenty of sunfish waiting for shoreline worm-hook-and-bobber anglers. Some bass are possible. At St. Mary's Lake (Route 5, south of Leonardtown to left turn on Camp Cosoma Road) the damage from recent storms has been repaired. The park is back to normal, but even when the gate was closed there were plenty of fishermen who walked in to cast for bass and sunnies. Currently, the bass have been more willing to look at lures.
WSSC RESERVOIRS: 20-30 miles – Triadelphia and Rocky Gorge lakes in the Prince George's/Montgomery/Howard counties corridor have been less than cooperative as far as largemouth bass are concerned. I guess the bad weather in the past 3 weeks has demanded a toll. However, a few bass can be caught on bright-colored crankbaits and spinnerbaits. Catfish like liver or clam snout baits.
PATUXENT RIVER: 25-60 miles – There are rockfish by the numbers in the mouth of the river and up inside all the way toward Sheridan Point. Rockfish are caught during day and night hours at Myrtle Point Park by shoreline bait slingers who prefer to use peeler crab and bloodworms. Rockfish are biting close to the sand and rocks from Fishing Point to Hog Point, to the O'Club and around to Goose Creek where the Patuxent and the Bay meet. Surfcasters toss surface plugs and they're getting rockfish up to 30 inches. White perch are very active now on moving tides, says Ken Lamb, of the Tackle Box in Lexington Park. The perch will hang around in various creek shallows until the water temperatures drop severely, then they'll move into the main stem of the river where they can be caught in deep holes throughout winter.
OCCOQUAN RESERVOIR: 33 miles -- Water conditions are fair in spite of the recent heavy rains and the new precipitation of the past several days. It'll be tough to find willing bass, catfish and crappies, but the fish are there. A scented plastic worm, or a pork strip on the hook of a hair jig, known as a pig'n'jig, could convince a largemouth to strike. And never overlook a loudly rattling Rat-L-Trap in firetiger or chrome/blue colors.
BURKE LAKE: 29 miles – Bass will take a look at rattle baits, Berkley Power Worms or flashy spinnerbaits, but I would use quarter-ounce models rather than half-ounce lures. Live minnows or pieces of nightcrawler might interest the crappies that hang around sunken brush. Catfish are always willing if you fish juicy bait on the bottom.
CENTRAL & WESTERN MD.
UPPER POTOMAC RIVER: 35-100 miles – Top DNR river biologist John Mullican said the fishing depends greatly on strong local rains. "We had some heavy downpours in Frederick County [Tuesday], so the water from the Monocacy River downstream will be murky at the very least." But Mullican figures that the upper river in Washington County will deliver smallmouth bass and fairly good water conditions, unless, of course, last minute cloudbursts alter the picture.
DEEP CREEK LAKE: 179 miles – The vacationers have gone home, the kids are back in school, and now is a great time to visit DCL (as locals call the lake). There'll be bass hanging around visible and underwater structure where smartly-fished plastic craws and scented worms will draw some away from their hiding spots. Crankbaits or live minnows could find a walleye or two around sharply dropping, rocky lake points and shorelines. Don't overlook the fat yellow perch and sunnies in the coves.
SUSQUEHANNA RIVER: 65-100 miles – The fishing is still a bit iffy. Debris and murky water persists and we have not heard from anyone doing well with bass, although some big catfish are possible if you use bottom-fished clam necks and such.
MARYLAND: 45-75 miles – From the Tackle Box in Lexington Park, proprietor Ken Lamb promises stripers from the mouth of the Patuxent River down to Point No Point and on toward Point Lookout. "Trollers, jiggers, and lure casters [also] find rockfish from the Cedar Point Rip to Little Cove Point and to the Gas Docks," said Lamb. Many of the stripers show up early in the day, often erupting on the surface as they chase baitfish. Lamb also said that bluefish are hooked and landed all over the bay. "Many are small, from 12 to 14 inches, but there are some that are much bigger, up to 28 inches and weighing as much as six pounds," he added. Local fishermen also find spotted sea trout now on the western side of the Bay, occasionally in the midst of striper schools. Most of these sea trout are small, but occasionally an 18-incher turns up for boaters who already have caught their legal limit of two stripers each, bluefish and Spanish mackerel. For some reason and in spite of all the freshwater rain we've had, the saltwater-loving Spanish mackerel, even some big red drum, have stayed in the Bay and lure trollers connect on them in widely scattered locations.However, much cooler weather is on the way and the "Spanish" won't tolerate a lot of that. If you hook a red drum, remember that they must measure at least 27 inches.
VIRGINIA: 75-150 miles – In the waters of the Northern Neck, bluefish and stripers take chunks of spot from anchored boats, or they'll jump onto trolled spoons or bucktails. Small chrome spoons also find Spanish mackerel, but they'll leave the Bay as soon as a cold front blows through. Virginia Beach's Dr. Julie Ball (www.drjball.com) said that "horse" croakers are caught throughout the lower Bay, including the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. She expects that the cobias will again cooperate after the rotten weather of late. The flounder fishing also slowed down quite a bit, but Ball figures the flatties will again be in a biting mood when the water clears nicely.
CHOPTANK RIVER: 120 miles – Shore residents Jack Scanlon and Butch Chambers have been thumping the rockfish in the mouth of the river, using topwater lures, many of their stripers are in the 20-inch range. The Little Choptank also turns up schoolie stripers.
POCOMOKE RIVER: 140-170 miles -- Every day appears to bring different water conditions, but in all, the Pocomoke has been weathering the storms well. Bass are hiding among flooded roots and blowdowns from Snow Hill down to Shad Landing. Mann's Baby 1-MInus lures in red/chartreuse can score.
NANTICOKE RIVER: 120 miles – Slow fishing overall, but Delaware's Broad Creek not far from Sharptown, Md., has been turning up bass and a few hefty crappies.
LAKE ANNA: 82 miles – "Many largemouth bass are hanging out in around 10 foot-deep water during much of the day," said my special lake informant. "They occasionally make feeding runs into the shallows and that's when you want to be there," he added. "Spinnerbaits and crankbaits are a good choice," he said and recommended that always have another rod with soft plastics on the line ready for backup casts if you miss a strike. "Target the creeks around docks, stump fields and any willow grass you can find," he said. By the way, the crappies are getting more active every day but are still in generally deep water. Stripers are widely scattered and they haven't been easy to find, but the catfishing remains excellent.
RAPPAHANNOCK RIVER: 47-100 miles – Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries biologist John Odenkirk says the most recent electro-shocking tests of the river's bass population showed some of the heaviest concentrations of largemouths upstream of Port Royal that he's seen yet. "The area between Port Royal, Hicks Landing, and Fredericksburg, had fine numbers of bass, but bass numbers seem to decline as you head downriver." Odenkirk says it's mostly a matter of suitable bass habitat. The upper tidal portions simply offer better hiding places, plus whenever a tournament is held, the fish usually are turned loose at Hicks Landing. They appear to stay in that region after their release.
LAKE BRITTLE: 59 miles – The lake is in good enough condition for bass, catfish and sunfish catches, but late arriving rainy weather will have a lot to do with fishermen visiting this fine impoundment.
LAKE ORANGE: 75 miles – Darrell Kennedy runs the Angler's Landing (540/672-3997) concession if you need information. Catfish and bass are pretty much assured even if the water is discolored. We're not as optimistic about walleye and crappie hookups, although some crappie schools are now forming.
LAKE GASTON: 179 miles – Many bass boaters head uplake to find stripers and bass in the Allen's Creek area. Topwater poppers have been deadly on both species early in the day.
KERR RESERVOIR: 200 miles -- Bobcat's Lake Country Store (434-374-8381) will help with information about water conditions. With a bit of cooler weather arriving, the lake's famous crappies are beginning to think of schooling up. They'll be found in 6- to 15-foot water in the middle of brush piles or along bridge abutments. Big catfish and some bass are hooked. Pray for rains to stay away.
JAMES RIVER: 115 miles – (Tidal Richmond and downstream) The fishing guide Mike Hoke (804-357-8518) can be called for bookings. The big blue catfish are biting no matter what the water looks like because they respond to their olfactory senses, not sight. If they "smell" a piece of cut herring or a whole bluegill, they'll respond.
CHICKAHOMINY RIVER: 135 miles – River's Rest (804-829-2753) will tell you what the water looks like before you head down. Some decent largemouth bass are caught, along with an assortment of catfish, white perch and upriver crappies.
SHENANDOAH RIVER: 60-85 miles – The water will be fishable if no more heavy rains arrive. Smallmouth bass will look at a small surface popper or buzzbait, but eventually you'll have to switch to tube lures, plastic grubs or 1/4-ounce crankbaits in crawdad colors.
SMITH MOUNTAIN LAKE: 210 miles – Cooler weather at night has triggered bites from more cooperative freshwater rockfish. The bass catches also are holding up well around lake points, stickups and dropoffs where pig'n'jig lures and plastic craw baits work well.
UPPER JAMES RIVER (at Scottsville): 130 miles -- The smallmouth bass crowd should do well this weekend. Everybody is keeping fingers crossed and praying that no more rain will visit. Early morning surface poppers will get hammered, especially when the sun isn't lighting up the water. Overcast conditions are always best.
MARYLAND: 165 miles to Ocean City -- Sue Foster, of the Oyster Bay Tackle Shop in Ocean City, says lots of bluefish are available in the surf and red drum (channel bass) have been hooked from the beach at Assateague Island. In the back bay behind the resort city tautogs and plenty of undersized flounder are biting. Offshore, it's strictly a matter of cooperative winds. If it blows, all bets are off, but when a good day is in the offing, billfish and some tuna can be hooked in the far-off canyon waters, while closer to land, sea bass are biting. Better hurry if you want a marlin. They don't like the forecast about cooler weather that is sure to lower water temperatures.
VIRGINIA: 210 miles to Virginia Beach – Dr. Julie Ball (www.drjball.com) said recurring windy weather is keeping many blue-water anglers close to shore, but when the weather improves, a good billfish bite awaits offshore boaters around the Washington Canyon and south off Oregon Inlet where some captains have reported over 20 marlin releases per day. "Scattered yellowfin tuna, big eyes, blackfin tuna and dolphin are also available, and wahoo will continue to pick up through October," said Ball, who added that swordfish action should continue to heat up as the waters cool. Expect some of the Chesapeake's cobias to show up in near-shore waters of the Atlantic. Ditto for the big channel bass (redfish). Close-in beach waters have turned up a few king mackerel. Incidentally, Dr. Ken Neill reminds us that the striped bass season will open October 4. "The best early striper fishing will be at night around any lighted structure," he said.
• All listed distances begin in Washington
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